THE BLOG
06/09/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

Toward a Less Rational Immigration Policy

In recent weeks, California gubernatorial hopefuls Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner have been scrambling to prove their hard-liner credentials on immigration to gain favor with Golden State conservatives. But don't look for these campaigns to provide new ideas or common-sense solutions for the many challenges associated with undocumented immigration.

In dueling Los Angeles Times Op-Eds, Whitman and Poizner set out their respective positions on immigration policy, affirming their support for nothing but a more aggressive version of the status quo. For both candidates, immigration reform for California entails an expansion of the flawed E-Verify program and deploying billions more in federal resources to the Southern border. And on the campaign trail, both candidates evoke a similarly alarmist tone on immigration levels: Whitman pledges to "stop the influx" and Poizner says California must "stem the flow" of undocumented immigration.

Whitman and Poizner are quick to make a distinction between legal and "illegal" immigrants--they'll pay lip service to the achievements of legal immigrants, but in the same breath will raise the alarm over how much the undocumented are supposed to be costing the federal and state government. But what's missing from this debate is the honest truth: undocumented immigrants are workers, taxpayers as well as consumers, and California relies on their significant economic contributions.

The candidates' rhetoric seems to put reality aside in the interest of hitting the typically tough-on-immigration talking points. Poizner and Whitman pledge to combat California's economic troubles by cracking down on social services provided to undocumented immigrants, services that the former colorfully claims are pushing the state over a cliff. This is despite the fact that California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger explicitly stated that undocumented immigrants are not to blame for the state's budget woes. Both identify allowing undocumented students to pay in-state tuition at public universities as a critical example of the kind of taxpayer-funded benefits they oppose. Yet a recent study finds that undocumented students make up one percent or less of the student population at the state's three higher education systems. For the UC system, offering this benefit cost five-tenths of a percent of its state-funded budget in 2007-8.

Above all, Whitman and Poizner agree on one thing: "No Amnesty." This knee-jerk position is what we've come to expect from GOP leadership these days, despite evidence that an earned legalization program for the nation's undocumented immigrants is in our shared economic interest.

After June's primary election, the Republican candidate for governor will have to win the favor of a larger and more moderate pool of voters. And recent polling tells us that many California voters' attitudes about immigration have shifted away from reactionary attitudes and restrictive policies of the past. An LA Times/USC poll indicates that fewer voters than ever support denying essential services to undocumented immigrants. Many of those same voters express strong support for the legalization measures that Whitman and Poizner are so eager to oppose. These polls confirm what many of us are already thinking: Californians aren't leaning toward reactionary solutions to the challenges of immigration, and more than ever, the GOP just doesn't get it.